Voices of Genetic Counsellors: Helping Patients Cope with Bad Results
The art of caring in clinical practice
For genetic counsellors it’s not simply enough to impart scientific knowledge, or to be able to communicate the results of a genetic test in an easily digestible format. At the heart of these exchanges with patients is a more complex set of professional competencies that demand a high level of emotional intelligence.
Many practitioners in the field will support individuals throughout different points in their lives as the relevance of genetic information re-emerges for them and their wider family (e.g. at the time when a person is ready to have a predictive test, at a time when they are ready to have children and want to pursue testing in pregnancy, at a time when they want to explore risk reduction options etc). This means that in addition to translating the science of a condition, there is also a responsibility to implement a system of support and care into clinical practice.
To be able to build sustained relationships with patients, especially relationships that effectively support individuals to process an unexpected or unwanted result, and subsequently feel empowered to move forward, this requires a deep level of professional empathy.
“Genetic Counsellors combine the advanced knowledge of the science of genetics and genomics with the art of caring and communications skills, to help families and future families”.
Prof. Christine Patch (Principal Staff Scientist in Genomic Counselling at Wellcome Connecting Science Engagement and Society team)
In the fifth instalment of our ‘Voices of Genetic Counsellors’ video series, created by members of our Wellcome Genome Campus Society and Ethics Research team, and in partnership with the Association of Genetic Nurses and Counsellors, we hear from Professor Christine Patch (Principal Staff Scientist in Genomic Counselling, Wellcome Connecting Science Engagement and Society), as she explains the very nuanced, yet candid communications skills held by genetic counsellors, to enable them to develop a valuable clinical relationship with their patients.
Christine highlights the critical importance of the involvement of genetic counsellors in healthcare; explaining how the profession combines medical genetics and psychosocial counselling to effectively guide on reproductive health, long-term medical management, and the ability to communicate with wider family members – where appropriate.
Christine explains the distinctive relationship that a counsellor has with their patient, whereby all individuals are treated as valuable. This demonstrates why genetic counselling is so fundamental to clinical practice, in enabling families to make informed decisions about their respective futures, as well as promoting efficient use of healthcare resources.
Christine also shares a very poignant story about a patient she counselled with Huntington’s Disease. Through this extraordinary narrative we learn more about the unique communication skills that epitomise the genetic counselling profession. We also discover how, with the right application of these skills, patients can be encouraged to form a positive outlook around their condition, and move to develop a “normal” life whilst living with the consequences of a confirmed diagnosis.